When The Doctor Cancels…

We’re in the middle of an 84-hour “snow event”. This is our third major snowstorm within the past three weeks. I’ve been sitting here weighing the risks and benefits of trying to go to work tomorrow vs. staying home.

In my six years as an attending physician, I’ve last-minute canceled clinic several times: for weather (snow and hurricanes), illness (Norovirus), and for deaths in our family (sadly, twice).

But I’ve never had to call out this many times in short succession.

Hubby was out of town and I was alone with the kids for the last two snowstorms, and it was literally impossible for me to leave the house. My practice is all ambulatory, and most of my patients had rescheduled their appointments anyway. So, I didn’t feel bad. It was what it was.

But this storm is weird. It’s a long, steady, relentless snowfall. When it’s over, we’ll likely have another eighteen inches of snow on the ground.

I would think that with the snow accumulating this slowly, the roads would be more easily cleared. But, we were out and about today doing Sunday things, and the driving was far worse than we expected. My car was stuck, twice.

The snowfall is supposed to be heavier tomorrow. My dilemma is: do I make the huge effort and take the risk to get downtown to work, knowing that most of my patients will be rescheduling? Or do I simply stay safe and stay home?

The doctor culture, the message that is drilled into our heads during training, is this: “If you’re not in the hospital, you’d better be in the hospital.” In residency, if someone calls out sick, someone else has to be pulled to take their place. It’s inpatient care; there is no rescheduling. Those residents that called out frequently or who had prolonged absences were widely and heavily resented, even if they had a sound excuse.

I remember arising extra early in heavy snow to make an often perilous drive to one of the satellite hospitals where we rotated on the floors. Of course I struggled to get my car out of the lot. Of course I spun out and got stuck on the highway. I would either gun it and power through, or get my shovel from the trunk and clear my own way. I was damned if anyone was going to call me a slacker.  (I was even more afraid of getting the evil eye- and punishment-  from my colleagues.)

But these days, I have no inpatient duties. Most of my patients are coming in for physical exams or non-urgent issues. Much can be accomplished via communication online or by phone. On the bad-weather days when I have called out, my colleagues who made it in saw two, maybe four patients the whole session (as opposed to ten).

I imagine that tomorrow will be one of those days. Will I be one of the docs who makes it in? If so, I can use the down time to catch up on lab/imaging results review and reporting, and boards studying. That would actually be nice. On the other hand, I can do that kind of thing from home, if Hubby can cover me and I can hide from the kids.

And so, I ponder…

An early-morning weather report and peek out the window will help. Meantime, I may as well go to bed.

7 thoughts on “When The Doctor Cancels…”

  • Ah, the eternal dilemma: needs of doctor vs needs of patient. At least none of your colleagues will give you the evil eye if you do decide to stay home! (e.g. no longer needs of individual vs needs of collective).
    How did the snow do?

    • It’s going to snow through tomorrow Tuesday morning (It started Saturday night). I’ve had my eye on the news reports: the main highway is snow-packed, no asphalt visible, multiple spinouts all over. From my window, I can see that the local roads are nearly impassable. Just sent Hubby out, and he had trouble opening the back door for the drift that formed up against it. I cancelled clinic, and all my patients said they were going to cancel anyways.

  • After 30 years of getting to the hospital no matter what our group gave up inpatient work last year. And it was a great decision.

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